The NFL is an offensive league. Plain and simple. The New York Jets have neglected the offensive side of the football for far too long, and the game has surpassed them. There is no question that the Jets should invest most of their capital (draft, free agency, trades) on offensive weapons to surround Sam Darnold with. However, this doesn’t mean that you can completely neglect the defense. Jets fans have witnessed far too many late-game situations where their defense has folded in big moments (see 2018 Browns, Titans, Texans, Packers games).
As we approach free agency and look forward to what kind of toys Maccagnan can buy for Darnold to play with, I will take a quick look at the other side of the ball. The Jets brought in Gregg Williams, whose style and attitude will certainly shake things up. The biggest move may be the expected switch to a 4-3 defense, leaving some players potentially on the outside looking in (notably Jenkins, Williamson, Anderson). Here are the top five free agent linebackers that the Jets could target that could fit in Williams defense and upgrade/add depth to the linebacking corps.
1. Anthony Barr, OLB, Minnesota
• This four-time Pro-Bowler will likely shake loose from Minnesota and test the free agent market. His size (6-5, 255), age (26) and versatility (played RB, WR, and TE at UCLA) make him the top LB target for the Jets this offseason. The biggest concern with Barr is his lack of production in the sack department (only 13.5 in 5 years), despite good production in college. However, his experience in a 4-3 and coverage ability make him a solid option for Gregg Williams’ defense.
2. CJ Mosley, ILB, Baltimore
• If Baltimore lets him walk, he would be a terrific option for the Jets. Questions already loom about Avery Williamson’s fit in the 4-3. Going after CJ Mosley would certainly bring that more into question. However, he would be a tough player to pass on. Baltimore runs multiple schemes and has been a vaunted defense for two decades. His age (26) and production (597 tackles, 9 interceptions, 43 TFL’s and 2 TD’s) in a consistently good defense would make him a great addition to a talent-deprived roster.
3. KJ Wright, OLB, Seattle
• This eight-year vet is an intriguing option for the Jets. The concern with Wright would be age (30). However, his overall consistency (only significant injury was in 2018), success on a perennial top defense in Seattle, and veteran presence make him a quality option to play opposite Darron Lee in the Jets’ new scheme.
4. Deone Bucannon, LB, Arizona
• Drafted as a safety and converted to inside linebacker, Bucannon’s versatility and age (26) would make him a nice addition to the defense. While undersized (6-1, 211), his production has been solid in Arizona in his first four years where he recorded eighty-plus tackles a season, and a total of twelve interceptions and twenty-seven tackles for loss. A strong start to his career was somewhat wiped away in 2018 as he wasn’t a fit in Steve Wilkes’ system. He only started 6 games and was rumored to be on the trading block mid-season. While listed as an ILB, I don’t believe it would be out of the question to see him in an OLB role in Williams’ defense.
5. Brandon Marshall, ILB, Denver
• While his age (29) and injury history (hurt twice in last 3 seasons) would be concerning, his upside would be similar to that of Mosley’s. He has had success in a consistently good defense where he recorded one hundred plus tackles and twenty-six tackles for loss in his three healthy seasons.
After three seasons with a combined record of 14-34, the Mike Maccagnan led Jets have a roster that is devoid of talent and find themselves with another hundred million in salary cap space. While the focus should be on the offense, it shouldn’t prohibit Maccagnan to make big swings on quality players at every position to add talent and depth across the board.